Running is my go to fitness exercise. I love the feeling of being outside and find the running process extremely meditative. As a more mature runner I have become more aware that I need to find ways to support my running routine with other physical activities. To that end I am convinced that yoga is a great complimentary activity for running.
Yoga for runners can be beneficial in helping to improve strength, flexibility, and balance. Overall, improving running speed and posture and decreasing the risk of injury. Some of the best poses include the pyramid, fire log, and lizard pose, all providing deep stretches and building strength.
Incorporating yoga into a routine as an elite runner can be a great idea. In this article, you will learn more about yoga and running compliment each other so well. It will also cover the best way to incorporate it into your routine, as well as poses you should and shouldn't do.
What Is Yoga?
Yoga is a practice that encourages you to use both your mind and your body. Its origins are thousands of years old and trace back to ancient Indian philosophy, where it began as a very spiritual practice. However, it is now very commonly used to get in some physical exercise while also quieting the mind.
Many styles still have a spiritual focus that encourages you to look inward, quiet the mind, and free yourself from negativity. The most common styles of yoga are:
Through the practice of yoga, your well-being can improve greatly. The combination of movements and postures offer a unique experience. You will experience many physical and mental benefits although it will vary depending on the yoga style.
Benefits of Yoga for Running
For anyone, yoga's benefits are endless as it can help people's minds, bodies, and spirits if practised properly and consistently. It can be beneficial for athletes and runners and prove to be a great practice to supplement their training.
Here are the benefits of yoga for running specifically.
Through yoga, you are given both the opportunity to improve strength in certain muscles. You also will notice which muscles are weaker than others. As you then move throughout the postures, you will be targeting multiple muscles at once, developing strength and toning them.
Holding these postures for a few breaths will strengthen your intrinsic muscle groups. This is vital in supporting and stabilising your skeletal system. As a runner, it is essential to have all of your muscles fairly strong and ensure both sides of your body have equal strength. Improving your performance and helping you to avoid any injury.
Balance is one of the key things you will be improving due to practising yoga, as you are encouraged to use your core, legs, and arms to keep yourself steady. Many poses also have you on one foot, which over time becomes easier.
As a runner, improved balance can help your legs and feet better. You can also anticipate changes in your movement, all in all, making you run much smoother and faster. By using yoga as a way to improve balance, you can then also improve your running.
If you are older, you may have also noticed your balance begin to get worse, so this is an even more important factor to consider as you age.
Better strength and improved balance also bring you improved flexibility. Many yoga poses will encourage you to sink into a deep stretch, stretching your legs, arms, back, feet, and any parts of the body. With time, you will begin to sink deeper into the pose, as you will begin to lengthen your muscles and get your body used to be in a certain position.
Increasing your flexibility as a runner can be a great way to help you lengthen your strides. It also helps prevent injury if you ever end up falling into an unfortunate position.
Can Improve Running Speed
One of the less expected benefits of yoga is that it helps train your brain. Through yoga, you can better understand how the body works. This allows you to better monitor any pain while running, encouraging you to stop instead of continuing and getting injured.
You also become better accustomed to your energy levels, which can help you predict when your body needs a break or when your body is ready to get in a good run.
Decreases Stress and Anxiety
One of the amazing benefits of running is that it can help relieve stress, which also happens to be a huge benefit of practising yoga. Through the movements of yoga, you will be encouraged to quiet your mind and relax. Giving you a break from any outside stressors and your daily life.
On the more scientific side of things, yoga helps to release tension in the body, resulting from holding stress. It also helps you work on breathing techniques, which can then come in handy in other situations to help you relax.
It also serves as a form of meditation, where your brain is encouraged to slow down and relax, acting as a major stress reducer.
Helps to Prevent Injuries
As we already mentioned, improved strength, balance, and flexibility are all things that can decrease the chances of injury. Also helping you become more in tune with your body, so you are less likely to push yourself when you really need a break.
Additionally, yoga helps you work on proper alignment. This ensures that you don't put too much weight on one side of your body and keeping everything symmetrical.
Can Aid in Recovery
In addition to helping prevent injuries, it can also help you recover from them. However, you will want to take this slow if you choose to use yoga to help with an injury.
By practising yoga, you can stretch out different areas of your body, most commonly helping with back or neck pain. Also, helping eliminate any common pains you feel as you work on improving your balance, posture, and flexibility.
Helps To Develop Mental Strength
While yoga may look easy, and some poses may be easier than others, there are quite a few poses that are very difficult to hold. However, if you push through the pain and discomfort, you will begin to train your mind to be much stronger.
As a runner, it is common that you may begin to feel leg or foot pains after some time, although, if it is a race, you know you cannot slow down. If you have been able to develop a strong mind, you will then be able to better push through the pain and continue running.
Adding Yoga to Your Running Routine
If you want to add yoga to your typical running routine, you have multiple options as to how you can do that. You can choose to either do it at home, in a yoga class, or in a private class with an instructor. However, no matter which you choose, you want to make sure that adding yoga will not impact you negatively.
Here are some things you will want to consider before you decide to do yoga:
Yoga can be great to do a few times a week or as a way to warm up before a run or stretch after a run. But it is best to take it slow when you are starting. When you begin, yoga takes a much larger toll on your body then once you have done it for some time. Try doing yoga once or twice a week or on your rest days when you begin to avoid unnecessary pain or injury.
Just as you had to train for running, you need to train your muscles to stretch with yoga. While you may be eager to push yourself to sink deeper into a pose, be gentle with yourself at first. You can end up pulling a muscle and hurting yourself if you try to jump into a stretch too fast. Once it begins to feel uncomfortable, your cue is to hold where you are or even ease up a bit.
If you already have a very intense running schedule, you may want to opt for less intense yoga sessions. Try Hatha, yin, or restorative yoga, so you do not push your body too hard. Although, if you have leftover energy, trying out a faster-paced style such as vinyasa or power yoga may be better. The key is to listen to your body. If you feel pain or light-headed, don't hesitate to take it back a few notches.
Poses to Avoid
As a runner, your legs and your feet are your best resources, so you don't want to cause them any pain, injury, or overexertion if you don't have to. Yes, it is possible to work your legs too hard in a yoga class to feel pain for the following two days. So, keep in mind that some poses may be better to avoid or modify. We go over which poses they are in the final section.
If you keep the above in mind, adding yoga to your running routine can be very useful for your mental and physical health. Keep reading to see your options on how you can incorporate them into your routine.
Yoga at Home for Runners
While it may be best to attend a few classes first to get the basics of yoga down, you can also opt to go for it at home. Below is a 20 minute routine designed for beginners to improve balance, mobility and strength for runners.
However, you can also use the poses we mention below to create your own yoga session to follow. The best thing about this is that you can choose when you do yoga and how long you do it.
The best way to learn what you are doing is to attend a yoga class, either individually or virtually. This way, your teacher can guide you through the movements, poses and assist you with any modifications if you need them. This can help you prevent injuries and learn proper alignment and techniques.
However, if going to a class seems too intimidating, you can also book a session privately, although this may cost more.
The Best Yoga Poses for Running
Here are some of the best poses you should do, either before or after a run or on your rest days if you want to improve your running.
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
While this pose may appear quite simple, it is a great way to warm yourself up. It can also help you improve your posture as it requires you to keep your core tight, strengthening your core and lower body muscles. For this, you should try and relax the rest of your body, including your arms and shoulders. To do this pose:
- Begin standing straight, with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Spread your toes, and ensure you distribute your weight equally among your feet.
- Keep your eyes focused directly in front of you, and bring your hands slightly out to the sides as you inhale. Your palms should face inwards.
- Inhale and hold the pose for 7-10 seconds. As you exhale, lower your arms to your side. Repeat for 4-5 breaths.
Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
The most well known yoga pose gives your legs a deep stretch and tests your ability to hold up your body weight with your arms. However, with time it becomes easier. It helps improve both your arm and leg strength and is great to do after a run. To do this pose:
- Begin on your hands and knees, with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees directly under your hips.
- Spread your fingers out wide, and push your tailbone to the back of the room, and then towards the sky.
- The key is to keep your legs and back as straight as possible and have your heels reach towards the floor. If your legs cannot be straight, bend them slightly to keep your back straight.
- Here you can pedal your legs to go deeper into the stretch. Hold for 4-5 breaths.
Lizard Pose (Utthan Pristhasana)
This pose gives your hip flexors, quadriceps, and hamstrings a thorough stretch. All in all, improving your hips' flexibility while also helping you build strength in your legs. To do this pose:
- Begin this pose in a downward-facing dog. Then sweep your left foot to the front of your mat with your front knee bent, and your back leg lowered to the ground. This is similar to being in a lunge.
- While your hands are on the ground, push your left leg back until you feel your hips open up.
- Then, slowly shift your right foot out, so it is angled away from you, but keep your toes pointed at the front of the room.
- If you can, lower yourself from your hands to your forearms to experience a deeper stretch. Keep your head looking down.
- As you exhale, sink your hip lower to the ground. After holding for a 3-5 breaths then repeat with the opposite leg.
Pyramid Pose (Parsvottanasana)
A side stretch that stretches your shoulders, hips, spine, and hamstrings. It also helps improve your balance and build strength in your legs. To do this pose:
- Stand up straight, facing sideways.
- Next bring both your feet more than shoulder-width apart, so you are in a wide stance.
- Turn your right foot slightly, so it faces inward, and turn your left foot facing outward 90°. Both your feet should be facing the same direction but at different angles.
- Then, while keeping your hips square, slowly fold yourself forward. Extend your arms out and back behind you where you can intertwine your fingers. You want to keep your back leg straight while keeping a slight bend in the one in front.
- Hold this pose for 30 seconds, and repeat with the other foot in front.
Fire Log Pose (Agnistambhasana)
This pose gives you a deep stretch in your outer hips and can feel very good after a long run.
To do this pose:
- Use a folded blanket, and sit on its edge with your feet flat on the floor in front of you, with your knees bent.
- Shrug your shoulders up to your ears, and roll them back, bringing your upper arms pulled back behind you.
- Next bring your left foot underneath your right thigh, so it is sitting next to your hip. Let the left leg rest on the floor.
- Then, guide your right leg to rest on top of the left, so they are stacked on each other. Keep your right foot on top or over top of your left knee.
- Hold for a 3-5 breaths, and then repeat with the other side.
Gorilla Pose (Padahastasana)
This pose is quite simple but gives your legs, including your calves and hamstrings, a deep stretch. It also helps to lengthen those muscles, as well as strengthen them, improving flexibility. In addition, your neck and shoulders get a chance to relax. To do this pose:
- Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart.
- Next slightly bend your knees and fold forward.
- Place your hands to the mat, slipping the palms so they are under your feet and your toes are touching your wrists. This may take practice, so bend your knees as much as you need.
- As you inhale, lift yourself so your back is flat and parallel with the ceiling. Hold for a breath.
- As you exhale, fold deeper into the pose.
Head to Knee Forward Bend Pose (Janu Sirsasana)
This pose is a great way to open up your hips and back while stretching out your legs. Making it great for practising after or even before a run. If you have knee or hamstring issues or if your legs aren't that flexible, place a pillow under the bent knee. To do this pose:
- Start in a seated position with your legs out in front of you at a slight angle.
- Next bend one leg and bring your foot, so it touches your inner thigh of the other leg. Pull it in as far as you can.
- Keep the foot of the straight leg flexed so your toes point to the ceiling.
- Then fold forward slightly, with your hands on the floor in front of you, and fingers spread wide.
- As you begin to tilt forward, you can keep your back flat and long, or slightly round it. When you inhale, bring your legs back out in front of you. Hold for a 3-5 breaths.
Cat-Cow Pose (Chakravakasana)
This pose includes a transition between two different postures and is a great way to give your back the stretch it needs as well as your feet. This pose is great to include at the beginning of your yoga practice or to do whenever you feel you need a good stretch. To do this pose:
- Begin on your hands and knees, with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees directly under your hips.
- As you inhale, you will move into the cat pose, keeping your toes pushed into the floor and curling your back up as high as you can. Bring your chin to your chest and drop your gaze.
- On your exhale, drop your stomach, and oppositely bend your back, so your belly button is pulled to the ground. Bringing your gaze slightly below the sky. Here you want to tuck your toes under your feet.
- Continue switching between the two for 3-5 breaths.
Yoga Poses Runners Should Avoid Or Make Modifications
While yoga can be great for runners, you want to make sure that you do not do any poses that may be pushing your body into a position that could cause an injury or pain that impacts your running.
While you should determine which poses feel right and which feel uncomfortable, here are some poses you may want to skip or choose to modify.
Since many runners have tight hips or knees, this pose may cause a lot of pain. As a result of the pain, you are likely to push up into your back instead of stretching your glutes. To avoid this, keep your hands on the ground, or push yourself up with your fingers. Also, keep the foot at the front pushed into the floor to stabilise you. If you feel a pinch in your hip or knee, though, it may be best to skip this pose.
Since you are crossing your arms in this pose, you will be putting a lot of pressure on your joints. When you do this pose, opt to slowly move into it and not push yourself into the position if you need to force yourself.
Sitting on the back of your feet can be bad news for runners. Opt to sit on a block instead is a better option or skipping these types of poses entirely.
When you lunge, you can end up putting too much stress on your lower back. So, make sure you create lower back and pelvis stability by pushing both your feet into the ground. Helping you to stretch your hip instead of feeling lower back pressure.
While it may feel like a pose for your legs, it is meant to be one that keeps your glutes engaged. In this pose, avoid sinking into your front hip, as you can be at risk for a tear
This pose can cause injury in anyone and can seriously cause you to injure your neck or spine. So it is best to avoid these as a runner unless you feel confident in your strength and have help from a yoga instructor.
If you are an regular runner and want to try something different from your typical training, yoga is a great option. It provides you with opportunities to build your strength and develop better balance. You can also increase your flexibility and mobility if you choose to be consistent. It also is a great way to stretch out your body as running can take a toll on your muscles.
However, keep in mind the poses that you need to avoid or modify. You don't want to risk injury or cause any unnecessary pain that can hinder your ability to run.